This weekend, I got this question through our anonymous Have A Question page:
I’m pretty sure this is a common question in ur field, but I need tips on strengthening my love towards my husband…. Let me explain.. We have 5 kids 7 being the oldest.. So when he comes home.. I’m tired frustrated, ready for him to help but he goes to his room. To relax from a long day of labor. He is a carpenter.. But he comes in what’s cooked.. Did u do this. Y didn’t u do that?!! An all I wanna do is scream and run!! Can u help?? Any advise?? I’ve prayed about it everyday almost an all his family says is… I don’t know how u do it, I wouldn’t!! Really… Doesn’t help me mentally! I have no family here. They all live out of state! I do love him an don’t want to dare leave.. He’s a wonderful person. I just need some help with my being stressed an under-appreciated.. I cant change him.. But I can change to keep our marriage an our amazing children from seeing that! I don’t want to be that example to them!…..WOW!! I’m so sorry that’s a long.. question…!?? Thx for ur time! God Bless!!
Then I received a follow up email, making it not so anonymous…but I’m going to treat it as one, but, I will share one line from her email:
I feel more like a chore, or maid…than the beautiful, vibrant, young, woman I am supposed to feel like..
Now, she started off the question with “I’m sure this is a common question in your field”, and you know what, it should be, but, it’s rarely asked. Too often people want to change their spouse, rather than change themselves. Changing yourself is hard, and changing your heart even more so. It means admitting to not having power over your spouse. Second, it means admitting the reality that your spouse might never change. Hope is not completely lost, but the fantasy, of your spouse suddenly becoming the perfect specimen you want, dies. They may still change in the future, but for now you need to make sure you’ll still be there to accept the change if they do.
I’ve talked to too many divorcees who realize, too late, that they needed to change. Some of them realized it while still married…but by the time they were able to change enough, their spouse had given up and moved on. Often they realize after their divorce, which is tragic. But, it does mean they were capable of realizing it, and might have realized it while still married, if there was enough time.
So, how do you protect against this? How do you survive the intervening years (and sadly, perhaps decades)? It’s an amazing question, that shows a wonderful, though wounded, spirit.
Train your brain to change your heart
From a psychological perspective, the answer is to train your brain. Your brain will ultimately do what you tell it to do, though it’s a bit slow to pick up the hint sometimes. Our brains are made of neuropathways. These pathways grow and shrink as they build habits and let others lapse. Think of it like a forest with paths in it. The paths you take more often get easier to take, because they get hardened, the small plants get trampled and cleared with use. And so what was hard on the first trip, struggling through a dense forest to get from A to B, becomes easier with each passing trip. First becoming a path, then a trail, then a road, a highway, and maybe even a rail line by the time you take the path without even being aware of it anymore.
This is the basic premise behind how to build up new habits, like working out daily, or doing daily devotions. It’s hard at first, but if you can keep it up, it becomes easier, until it becomes habit, and then one day you start doing it without even consciously making the effort. It has become second nature.
Of course, if you stop, like in a forest, the forest will take over. The trains won’t run, the rail line will become overgrown, it will revert back to a trail, and then eventually disappear completely.
So, what does this have to do with how we treat our spouses?
Well, our brain will go where we tell it to, or it will go off on it’s own, using what neuropathways are well established. Sometimes we might find ourselves focusing on things that really aren’t healthy, but we’re so used to focusing on them, its natural for your mind to wander that way.
So, if your brain starts focusing on the negatives, stop it. Force it to focus on the positives. Force it to think about your husband’s perspective, of having a hard day at work, and coming home and needing time to decompress. Think about the good things in your relationship. Focus on the positives.
This isn’t ignoring reality, but rather, it’s training your brain to redirect your attentions to the things that are more conducive to a happier live.
This, ultimately, will change your outlook. It will change your attitude, and even change your behavior. And now, you have something that might actually change him. Society tells us that we need to punish people to make them change. We have prison to reform convicts. We have detention to reform students. We get written up at work to reform employees. Everything in our society is based on a “hurt them when they’re wrong” mentality. The stick, as opposed to the carrot. However, the problem is that people don’t learn how to be right…they just learn to avoid punishment. Some get very good at doing wrong while seeming to do right.
The Bible shows us another way.
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? – 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. – 1 Peter 3:1-7
The Bible teaches more of a modeling type approach, something that is severely lacking in our society these days. We are to model for our spouses what being a good spouse looks like. So, this change of attitude, of focus, of behavior, might change your spouse. They might see the good work in you, see how happy you are, and what that for themselves.
Work for God, not for your husband to change your heart
Secondly, we have a theological approach. Whatever you do, the long days with the kids, the lack of relief at the end of the day when your husband comes home. Realize that the work you do is ultimately not for your husband, or even for yourself, but rather for God. Your children, your home, they are God’s. We are merely stewards of what is His, for a short time.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. – Colossians 3:22-24
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. – Ephesians 6:5-8
Now, you aren’t a slave, but the same principle still applies. Work as if working for God, because ultimately that’s exactly what you are doing. You are showing Christ to your husband, to your children (as you hinted at), showing them what being a spouse should look like. Hopefully your husband will realize and learn, but if not, your children will at least. And God will reward such service, if not here, then in heaven. But, I find that choosing to have a better attitude gives you some reward here and now, even if it’s a loss of the burden of feeling constantly hurt.
So, that’s my advice on how to change your heart. I hope it helps.Have a Question? Ask it here!
11 thoughts on “If you can’t change your spouse, how do you change your heart?”
Excellent and verry encouraging. Verry helpful and seasoned with Grace and Mercy.
Thank you. I try.
Sorry but this is the first post I’ve read on your blog Jay Dee that I can say I vehemently disagree with (not just have a casual difference of opinion). I started writing a much longer post and then deleted it because right now I’m too disappointed to write what I think in a non-emotional way.
What you’ve suggested is not healthy for the wife, it’s not healthy for the husband or the marriage, and it’s not healthy for the kids. It only encourages sinful selfish behaviour in marriage, and sets an example for the kids that men can be selfish and the woman just should put on a smile and put up with it. It’s not healthy and not biblical.
That’s okay, you’re welcome to disagree, of course. 🙂 However, if you’re going to accuse me of not being biblical, I would appreciate an alternative that is biblical (preferably with a verse attached to it). That way I can evaluate another option.dfa
Fact is, I followed this advice and wound up a wounded, codependent doormat with a neglectful, overbearing, and abusive husband. When I stopped following this advice, my husband was motivated to change for the better, too. I stood up for truth. I spoke up. I got third party help.
Yes, if there is abuse involved, then it’s a very different situation. Then a third party must definitely be brought in. But, that didn’t seem to be the situation in this case.
I used to tell my husband in a joking/I’m not joking way that I was just the maid who knew how to cook who just happens to be a five minute thrill. We would laugh but it was a way to say with love I’m not milly the maid. I think sometimes they just don’t get how trying being a stay at home mommy really is. Have you communicated to him all that you do. Maybe make a list of all you do sit down with him and show him. Then say at any given moment depending on the kids all that could be thrown out the window and I’m just focusing on the children. He just may not get it. It’s not Mary Poppins at home most days it’s WWF in my house. Yes we’re at home but that doesn’t mean we’re not doing anything. Ask yourself what takes top priority everday. God, family, and food. Anything else can’t wait. As I sit and look at that laundry that has been folded in the rocker glider for almost two weeks lol.? I will pray for you and him. Always in Jesus.
Make a game of some things with the kids they can help in more ways than one and it teaches responsibility. Don’t expect perfection from the either. It will help take some of the load off you.
Yep, same thing here. House usually looks like it got hit by a tornado.
I first want to make sure this wife is communicating her needs to her husband, and if she is, is she doing it in a way he can understand. For example, when I used to feel overwhelmed, I got crabbier and crabbier and just yelled at the kids and at him because I assumed he knew I needed help but was refusing to help me because he is an inconsiderate jerk, right? So one night I blew up and yelled, “Get off your butt and help me! Can’t you see I need help?!” And he said, “Sorry, sheesh. I didn’t offer to help because I thought you’d get mad at me for implying you couldn’t handle it.” Oh. It made a night and day difference for me to instead calmly just ask for help. “Hey, babe, I am really struggling right now. Would you be willing to help me?” And he usually jumps right in. He’s not always happy if he is trying to unwind, but when I kindly but very clearly state my need, he is a good willed guy and tries to meet that. So I encourage this wife to be sure she is being direct and clear, not passive aggressive and assuming he sees the need but is choosing to ignore it, because that might not be true.
Similarly, take a team approach. ” I know you need 20 minutes after work to decompress, and I really need help with the kids so I can make dinner because I cannot do both. How about if the kids and I give you that 20 minutes every night and then we switch so I can get dinner going?” Or ask him for his solution. State the problem and express the need for help in solving it. Put that Mr. Fix-It attitude to work. Both needs are legitimate. They BOTH need a break. Don’t make it a competition over who needs a break more; that is lose/lose. Instead work as a team to make sure they BOTH get that break. Find the win/win. You’re on the same team team, so act like teammates, not opponents.
If he still isn’t willing to work with her on this after being direct, that is especially when the above suggestions come into play. But i can’t help but wonder if she is not communicating in a way he understands, or she asks so disrespectfully (like I did) that he is only going to dig his heels in more and refuse. Many women tend to ask for help indirectly or passive aggressively by hinting and sighing and snapping, but a direct, respectful request will be much more effective. For example, a request for reassurance might look like this: “Ugh, I’m such a bad mom.” Another female friend intuitively knows to say, “What?! You’re a great mom!” Most men don’t know what to do with that passive aggressive request for affirmation so they do nothing, and then she is left wondering if he really does think she is a bad mom! This is ridiculous. It feels strange to do at first, but I have now changed my approach: “I am struggling with feeling like a bad mom today. Would you be willing to tell me one thing you really appreciate about me as a mom? That would help me so much.” Guess what, this works. If she doesn’t change her approach, he isn’t going to change his response. Whatever she is doing now obviously isn’t working. I hope she will stop doing what she is doing and try a new approach. Good luck!
In fact, maybe I am reading into this, Jay, but I would argue that this poster may have been actually looking for affirmation from you, for reassurance that she isn’t unreasonable for wanting his help. But I could be wrong. If the question truly is how do I change my heart if my husband won’t change, you did a great job answering it. I am just not convinced that is the question she was actually asking. ? At least before I became aware of my passive aggressive tendencies, this is exactly how I would ask you what I can do to get my husband to help me. And looking at at least one of the responses above, I think the women readers here intuitively know that wasn’t the actual question. That’s why our comments aren’t even talking about that. But I could be very wrong.
I think this next example is from Love and Respect. A husband and wife get in a fight and in reality the husband bears the brunt of the responsibility, but his wife goes in to apologize first. Why? Because if this same thing happened with a female friend, the convo would go, “I’m so sorry…” “No, I’m sorry!” And then they both apologize and make up. She apologizes first hoping her husband will respond in kind and admit his responsibility in the fight. But a lot of husbands don’t operate that way. Her actions may actually further convince him that he was in the right and may make it less likely for him to apologize because her apology proves to him that she was wrong and she knows he is right. I can’t help but wonder if this writer is doing the same. “Okay Jay, tell me how I can change first… So I can change my husband.”
Forgive if I am wrong, if you are the original poster and you’re reading this. I don’t know your heart. I just see myself in this post and am calling myself out on it. Forgive me if that is not your intention at all!
Yeah, that’s a good point, to make sure you are communicating effectively first. Thanks Kay.